Indian casino no threat to Aqueduct Racino

The fast-track bidding process for the Aqueduct Racino hit a bump when the Native American Shinnecock tribe of South Hampton, Long Island emerged as a potential casino operator, but state officials are assuring bidders for the Aqueduct Racino that their best interests will be preserved

The tribe was recognized by the federal government’s federal Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) at about 11 a.m. on Tuesday, June 15, opening the door to them eventually opening a casino on their 800-acre reservation – or in an off-reservation locale, if a compact with the state allows.

Published reports have said that several locations “have been mentioned,” including the Nassau Coliseum and Belmont Park in Elmont, a 10-mile drive from Aqueduct in Ozone Park.

Although six bidding groups, Clairvest Group; Delaware North & Saratoga Gaming and Raceway; Empire City Casino-Yonkers Raceway; Genting New York LLC; Penn National Gaming and SL Green Realty Corporation have paid a $1 million deposit for the right to enter a final bid, they can still take on partners, combine with other bidders – or drop out of the running – before the Tuesday, June 29 deadline.

At a briefing/site tour at Aqueduct on Tuesday, June 8, representatives for a number of bidders expressed reservations having to come up with a $300 million, non-refundable up-front payment and received assurances from Lottery Director Gordon Medenica that the state would protect their interests.

Within hours of the (BIA) announcement, state officials assured The Courier that bidders had little to fear.

“Whoever mentioned Belmont is uninformed,” scoffed John Sabini, chair of the state’s Racing and Wagering Board. “Belmont is state property; [a Shinnecock casino] is not going to happen so fast.”

“Gaming studies I’ve seen show that there’s enough room in the market for a facility on a subway line at Aqueduct and a facility in Suffolk County, down the road,” Sabini said.

Lottery Director Gordon Medenica concurred. “Ultimately, it will be the state’s decision to approve any gaming facility,” he said while admitting that “today’s announcement will raise concerns about the competitive landscape.”

“But it is in the state’s interest to protect its own cash flow,” he pointed out.

At least one industry source privately expressed concern that “300 million is a lot of money when you are taking all the risk and have no guarantees of performance from the other side.”

Robert Galterio, a spokesperson for Empire Gaming in Yonkers, admitted that a possible Shinnecock casino “is a source of concern,” but said that “we were refining our bid before the announcement and continue to do so.”